I stupidly volunteered to help a friend move this month. While I’m out of the heavy lifting business, I did offer to help her pack. In the process of getting her stuff together, we needed to excavate a coffee table. My friend is a “piler.” She has piles of stuff everywhere. In the kitchen, in her office, and on the coffee table. Things tend to look fairly clean because everything is stacked neatly, but when you really start excavating these piles you see that there is no organization. Unless you count, like a fossil record, the oldest stuff being on the bottom an organizational scheme. Rather than properly filing things and dealing with them as they come in, she simply stacks newer stuff on top of older stuff until it topples over. Or until she moves.
At first she just wanted to scrape it all off the table and into the trash. “I know there’s nothing in there I need,” she said. I said that we should at least make sure. When we started digging into these piles, I was amazed at the amount of “money” that we found. Some of it was too late to do anything about (expired coupons), but some of it was stuff that could still be used, or which was actually costing her money. We found:
- Expired Coupons: “Oh, yeah, I meant to use that coupon for the oil change place, but it got lost so I just paid full price.”
- Coupons That Were Still Good: At least we got a discount on the pizza we ordered so we could eat while we worked. The rest I convinced her to put on her fridge so she could see them.
- An Forgotten Netflix Movie: “Yeah, I knew I was only down to the one checkout with them instead of the two on my plan, but I didn’t know where that other movie had gone to.”
- An Overdue Library Book: Thankfully, our library caps overdue fines at $10 because otherwise this probably would have been at least $50 down the drain.
- Five Store & Restaurant Gift Cards: “Yeah, people give me those for Christmas and birthdays but then I forget about them.”
- Spare Change: We found $12.47 in spare change and bills stuffed in amongst the piles.
- Unread Magazines: A subscription you never read is a waste of money. It’s an even bigger waste of money if you bought the magazines on the newsstand and never read them.
- Unpaid Bills: “Huh. I wondered why the water company charged me a late fee two months ago and threatened to cancel my service. I could have sworn I paid that.”
- Uncashed Checks: A few more birthday and Christmas presents that never got taken to the bank. “Woo-hoo. Now I can pay for the moving van!”
- Stamps: “Yeah, I thought I had some but I couldn’t find them so I bought more.”
- Assorted Statements: Health insurance statements, bank statements, investment statements, and credit card statements were all in the piles, most of them unopened. “I just never see the point of really looking at those things. I’d know if something was wrong.” Uh-huh.
After we were finished excavating the coffee table, my friend moved on to her office where more of the same was uncovered. I don’t know exactly how much “money” — both lost and found — she ultimately uncovered, but it wasn’t an insignificant amount. She’s vowed that from now on she will be more careful. It might last, but I kind of doubt it.
The moral of this story is twofold. First, if you tend to pile things up, take some time today to excavate your piles. You might be surprised at how much money you have literally left, “on the table.” Second, even if you’re not a piler, take the time to get organized. Find a solution that works for you and deal with things as they come in. That way, you’ll always know where things are and be able to use them before they expire, incur fees, or become lost.
(Photo courtesy of hashmil)